Indiana governor not fully ruling out run for president

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) said Tuesday he doesn’t want to run for president — but he didn’t say he wouldn’t. 

“The simple fact is I don’t plan to do; I don’t expect to do it; I really don’t want to do it,” he said at a breakfast organized by The Christian Science Monitor. “I’m just very concerned about the condition and direction of the country and would like to have some input into a constructive Republican alternative.”

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Daniels, who was in Washington for the National Governors Association winter meeting, said he preferred to focus on his second-term agenda.

“I have an assignment that I sought. We’re getting a lot of things done,” he told reporters. “There’s a reasonable probability of getting those things done, and that’s a lot more appealing than taking the longest of long shots.”

Daniels, 60, also cited “the savagery of our politics” as one of the “hundred reasons” why he would not run.

However, the governor did not give the “Shermanesque” response that most observers require before ruling out a possible presidential candidacy. 

And he did have some advice for presidential aspirants.

“I think we have to speak to America in a tone that is inviting and friendly,” Daniels said, “and therefore gives you some chance of unifying people around some action. If it has to be, at the end of the day, the second or third or fourth best action, all right. Then you go advocate what you think is the very best way to do something.”

Daniels’s supporters point to his strong résumé and approval ratings, plus his easy 2008 reelection win, as reasons he’d make a good White House contender.

Daniels was director of the Office of Management and Budget in the George W. Bush administration, served as the political director of the Reagan White House, was chief of staff to Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and worked as an executive at Eli Lilly. 

In 2008, he won reelection by 18 percentage points while President Barack Obama carried the state. Daniels also has a reputation as a fiscal conservative, which could appeal to the conservative base of the Republican Party.

The White House questions came in response to a story in Monday’s Washington Post that said Daniels was leaving the door open for a 2012 bid.

The Post reported Daniels has talked to a number of people in recent months, including former President George W. Bush, about a possible run.

“Just to get them off my back, I agreed to a number of people that I will now stay open to the idea,” he told the Post.

There is also a “Mitch Daniels for 2012” Facebook group with almost 2,000 members and an “Americans for Mitch” website.

Some factors potential presidential candidates will consider: Republicans have seen their 2010 hopes rise as unemployment remains high and the economy remains troubled; plus Obama’s approval ratings have hovered around the 50 percent mark in recent days, according to Gallup tracking polls. 

While detailing the harsh realities of waging a national campaign, Daniels admitted he’s encouraged several potential candidates to enter the 2012 presidential race.

“I’ve talked to three different people over the last year who might sort of see things in the sort of way I do,” he said, without naming those individuals.

He did praise Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for his work on Social Security reform. “I happen to think he’s got it about right,” he said. “He has really thought deeply about this.” Ryan, who is the top Republican on the House Budget Committee, has called for reforming the entitlement program for workers under age 55.

As he directed attention elsewhere, Daniels was willing to tout his record in Indiana as a potential model for the GOP.

“What we have been about is a very vigorous active program, attempting to modernize a state that I thought was backward economically and really was not preparing itself at all for the world [economy],” he said. “We have campaigned and governed in the most positive, affirmative way we can. We try to be as unifying as we can be.”

He cited health insurance and property tax reform and telecommunications deregulation as places for common ground between Democrats and Republicans.

“I think a Republicanism that looks like that might have a chance” in 2012, Daniels said.

Daniels will be out of a job in two years. Indiana term limits prevent him from running for a third term as governor.

And he’s not the only governor with an eye on 2012. Republican Govs. Bobby Jindal (La.), Haley Barbour (Miss.) and Tim Pawlenty (Minn.) — along with former Govs. Sarah Palin (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Mass.) and Mike Huckabee (Ark.) — are all potential 2012 presidential candidates.